Paso Robles: Signature Varietal?

By Kori ~ April 14th, 2010.

Some wine regions have gained legendary status because of the popularity of one signature varietal; think Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Oregon Pinot Noir. Prior to my recent trip to explore Paso Robles wine country, I was uncertain as to whether or not the region had a signature varietal. I was familiar with the proliferation of Rhone-style varieties and blends led by the folks at Tablas Creek, but I also knew that one of the most acclaimed wines from the region was Justin’s Isosceles which is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

So what did I learn after three days of immersion in the wine scene in Paso Robles? Much like Washington State, Paso Robles does well with a number of different grape varieties. The various micro-climates and soil types in the Paso Robles AVA make it conducive to growing more than 40 different grape varieties.

Besides the Rhone and Bordeaux-style wines that I was expecting, I quickly learned about two other wines that are produced often and well in Paso Robles: Zinfandel and “Paso Blends”.

Zinfandel is referred to as the heritage variety of Paso Robles. It was first planted in the region in the 1920’s and had a strong influence on the growth and development of the local wine industry. Some area wineries like Turley Wine Cellars have made Zinfandel their own signature varietal.

Some of the newer “boutique” wineries in the area have found their own niche crafting uniquely “Paso Blends” of Bordeaux, Rhone, and Zinfandel varieties. I found these blends to be the most palate-expanding for me because I don’t believe I’ve ever had a Syrah/Zinfandel/Viognier blend or a Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot blend prior to this trip. I’m all for innovation and experimentation but I was worried at first that these blends might be a bit too gimmicky. Thankfully, that was not the case at all. I found many of these “Paso Blends” to be extremely well-made and quite enjoyable.

OK, now we’ve covered four different styles that are done well in Paso Robles: Rhone, Bordeaux, Zinfandel, and Paso Blends. Believe it or not, folks, there are more with some winemakers also experimenting with Spanish and Italian varieties as well. And I can’t forget Windward who specializes in Pinot Noir.

Now that I’ve thoroughly confused myself and probably you, I decided to take a look at the most widely planted varieties according to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. As of 2007, Cabernet Sauvignon led the way with 38 percent, followed by Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah and Sauvignon Blanc.

So back to my original question: Does Paso Robles have a signature varietal? I would have to say that the answer is “no”, and in their case, that is probably a good thing. While I’ve seen some wine writers try to pigeon-hole the region as the Rhone Valley of California, I think there is much more to Paso than that. A quick look back at my favorite wines from the trip, those with 4-star or higher Quality and 4-bangs or better QPR, shows two Zinfandels, a traditional red Rhone blend, a Syrah, a Paso Blend, and a Pinot Noir.

Paso Robles is beautiful, the people are friendly, and when it comes to wine, they truly offer something for everyone.

Filed under: American Wine, California Wine, Wine Travel

Reader's Comments

  1. Rick | April 14th, 2010 at 11:55 am

    very nice write-up. my parents lived in Paso for many years, and I miss that area terribly (though WA is nice too!). I’m a huge fan of the Turley zinfandels. I just got my allotment last week. They make at least 3 Paso-based zinfandels: Dusi, Pesenti, and Ueberroth. all are outstanding. If you’re not on their mailing list you can usually get the Paso zinfandels at their winery in Templeton. I think the tasting room just got expanded there, too.

    I look forward to visiting the Paso/Templeton/Cayucos area again soon. One of the most scenic wineries in the area is Castoro Cellars, off Bethel Road and Hwy 46 West. Their wines are solid if not spectacular, and the grounds are very welcoming and relaxing.

  2. Kori | April 21st, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Thanks so much. Glad to hear you enjoy Paso too. Thanks for the Castoro recommendation. I’ll have to check them out next time I’m in the area. Cheers!

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